Cheap Novelties: The Pleasures of Urban Decay
by Ben Katchor
This book is nice and simple, and maybe our review of it should be the same.
Comics get a bad rap for being only about superheroes so their potential for telling common everyday stories is often ignored or overlooked. As a medium they can tell stories as subtle and personal as any other art form, and Cheap Novelties is as good of an example as any.
Knowing nothing about Ben Katchor I went into this book with a complete blank slate and found myself charmed by the subject of Julius Knipl and his profession as a real estate photographer. Sure, the idea that real estate in the early 1900s needed photographing is compelling enough, but during his adventures we also find Knipl interacting with various aspects of New York that are long gone and maybe even forgotten. He reveals a part of life most of us never knew about or thought about like rubber band salesmen, dead storage businesses, old theater facades, and Peruvian hot sauces that are actually made in New Jersey.
Much like a memory, Kartchor’s images are rough and imperfect, and create a unique world that’s alien to us but based in reality. Cheap Novelties might be too dry and ethereal for some and that’s understandable, but for those of us who relish in the preservation of the old, it’s quite a find.
Get it from D+Q!